Coal is considered as the most harmful fossil fuel in terms of carbon emissions, as well as in air pollutants that cause severe health impacts. It is a dominant source of energy globally, however, because it is relatively inexpensive to mine and transport.
The scientific debate on GHG (particularly CO2) as the major cause of Climate Change has long been concluded, and it is on this premise that we should discourage the mining of coal and its burning in thermal power plants—and other similar facilities.
Sample courses of action
- Government policies that phase out power plants or make them more expensive in any way, such as taxes on coal.
- Financial services industry (e.g. banks) or global development institutions (e.g. World Bank) limiting access to capital for new coal mining, refining, and power plant infrastructure.
- Discouraging coal is a high leverage strategy for reducing future temperature change. It keeps coal in the ground, increases the cost of energy, and reduces energy demand.
- Discouraging coal also improves public health and saves medical costs through improved air quality.
Some Key Dynamics
- When coal is discouraged, by taxing it, its demand automatically will be reduced as in any other commodity. It is one of the most sensitive energy supplies to any increase in cost. Unlike oil, it can often be substituted for natural gas and renewables.
- Taxing coal also reduces energy demand (see graphs “Final Energy Consumption” and “Cost of Energy”). When energy prices are higher, people tend to use energy more efficiently and conserve energy. However, tax policies must be implemented with considerations for poor and working-class communities who can be harmfully impacted by high energy prices.
The Potential Co-Benefits
- Reduced air pollutants from coal burning improves air quality and health outcomes for surrounding communities.
- Less coal mining reduces heavy metal drainage and waste from mine sites which improves water quality and helps protect wildlife habitats, biodiversity, and ecosystem services.
- Taxing coal can raise energy costs for households and businesses that rely on coal for energy needs.
- Low-income communities often suffer the worst health outcomes yet make up the majority of individuals who produce coal. Providing pathways for these people to find new jobs will be essential.
My upcoming Blog on this subject will quantitatively assess the effects of various Coal policy-scenarios on the established climate-metrics of post-industrial global mean Temperature-Increase and Sea-level Rise, using the world climate simulator EnROADS.
References: 1.) EnROADS Reference Guide, 2.) U.N. webpage https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/